Diavolo Premieres a Spectacular “L’Espace du Temps” with New West Symphony
Diavolo Architecture in Motion with its theatricalized amalgam of architectural sets, parkour, dance, and acrobatics has been one of the most consistent and enduring companies on the L.A. dance scene over the past twenty years. And even though the world of dance and dance-alt is a much bigger place than it used to be Diavolo continues to readjust our sights to alternatives in concert dance and theater as we know it with their notable local successes at the Hollywood Bowl as well as with their national and international tours. But describing its parts tends to under appreciate founder/Artistic Director Jacques Heim and the company’s originality and continuing vision. That vision found a high water mark this past weekend at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge with the American premiere of L’Espace Du Temps, a triptych of works made between 2007 and 2013 and originally conceived in conjunction with the L.A. Philharmonic. The music on Saturday (Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Adams, and Phillip Glass) was played by New West Symphony conducted by Christopher Rountree and included Rountree’s new scaled down orchestration of Salonen’s massive 2001 score for “Foreign Bodies”.
The musical arc for the evening generally moved from larger to smaller orchestral configurations. All three works were supported with amplification and sounded “bigger” than necessary. That was especially true in the concluding “Fluid Infinites (Unknown Destination)” and the accompanying music from the Glass Symphony #3, a small scale string chamber symphony with multiple soloists in which the players were individually amplified. The intent may have been to even out the sound, making less of the differences between small and huge orchestral forces. But in the end it was disconcerting to hear the solo parts wafting out of the speakers above the stage with the players themselves clearly visible in the pit. Unfortunately with both local and touring companies, Los Angeles has generally missed out on live music for dance, especially in situations where it is generally required. In that regard, processing the real thing ultimately felt like a poor choice.
“Fearful Symmetries” made good use of an edgy, single-movement score which featured powerful playing from the orchestra’s horn section.There were exceptional visual effects here too. At one point, with the huge set piece disassembled, the dancers seem to wander through a miniaturized cityscape with New York like canyons. The effect was magical. Another found the dancers pinned to vertical walls, grasped by the arms of dancers hidden from view behind pieced surfaces. Especially in this piece you could admire the company’s fearsome precision as they manipulate huge sets, narrowly missing bruising collisions. Heim is spot on here with his stated vision of his dancers as a kind of unisex proletariat let loose in a world they are continually (sometimes desperately) pulling down and then rebuilding.
The movement for the second and third works seemed to brim with more intent and livelier outcomes on music from the minimalist composers. Both “Fearful Symmetries (Evolution)” and “Fluid Infinities” rode along with a comfortable urgency on the respective scores of Adams and Glass. Salonen’s “Foreign Bodies (Creation)” by contrast, seemed labored as a composition though Heim and his dancers as choreographic partners made visible connections with the music as it moved from section to section. The action on stage as a whole felt isolated in a parkour-inspired combat zone where there were neither real enemies nor a purpose other than to exploit the opportunities provided by the set and Salonen’s often brutal music. It looked more like the chaos of warfare than creation.
“Fluid Infinities” makes sustained use of all four movements of Glass’s work. The best of it was the third movement, a complex chaconne based on familiar repeating Glass chordal sequences and dark harmonies. The playing was exceptional. On stage the movement opened with a long solo by Chisa Yamaguchi which seamlessly folded into a beautiful quartet of linked partnering. Unlike much of the movement from all three works, it looked and felt the most like stand-alone dance and made you wonder if Heim, in his obsession with architectural sets, perhaps leaves behind too many opportunities to develop dance interactions that can speak with equal force.
In lively conversation from the stage before the show Heim spoke of his objectives. His three-part work, he says, asks basic questions about how we began, how we evolved, and where we are bound. His answers aren’t always as provocative as the questions. But when the crew from “Fluid Infinities” maneuvers the long glass tube into place in the final moment of the piece to suggest an observatory and telescope he offers us a pretty straightforward answer to the last question. “Further” is the only possible answer.
( L’Espace Du Temps” was made possible with support from Valley Arts Performing Arts Center, LA Cultural Affairs, LA Philharmonic Association, and The Ford Signature Series. This was the American premiere; it was first performed in its entirety with orchestra in 2014 at the Movimentos Festival in Wolfsburg, Germany. Rountree is also the conductor and founder of the L.A. new music group “wild up”. The photo gallery is from previous “L’Espace du Temps” performances.)